SOUTHERN GRAMMAR SCHOOL FOR BOYS PORTSMOUTH 1888-1975

Pupils' and Staff recollections

This page is given over to the recollections of pupils and staff from their time at the school. We hope you will enjoy them. Just click on any link to open the file. Hopefully, this will inspire you to record your own recollections - preferably, but not essentially, in Microsoft Word format - and to send them to Peter Higgins (Contacts). We look forward to hearing from you.
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Recollections of Tom McCanna (joined 1957)

Seen from the windows

The building at Baffins had magnificent views from the upstairs windows. But to my naked eye, there was rarely much of interest happening beyond the school boundary. Here are a few memories.

From the Elementary Chemistry Lab, the smoke and steam from the Hayling Billy could be seen as it trundled along the far shore of Langstone Harbour. Looking in the other direction one day in 1963, there was excitement during a French lesson in B5 when Portsmouth's first Atlantean bus appeared on the Stanley Avenue turning circle. Along the Eastern Road there was always a light but steady stream of traffic. One unusual vehicle was a decommissioned trolleybus on a low-loader being taken away - for scrap or to a museum?

On Velder Creek, dredgers came in and out of Kendall's Wharf, sometimes getting stuck on the mud if they misjudged the tide. Then work started on building a barrier across the creek, with the shoreline changing daily as truckloads of hard core were dumped in a long finger stretching away from the school. Milton Common was eventually created, where fifty years later Cetti's warblers nest.

Some time around 1959, while Velder Creek still was a creek, we arrived at school one morning to see a large sailing yacht moored there, a two-master similar to a London barge. During the course of the morning it set sail, and slowly made its way out of the harbour, past the Winner banks, and eventually turning westward, where its sails could be seen way out beyond Eastney Peninsula, watched furtively by those of us lucky enough to be having classes in the south-facing rooms.

Tom McCanna

November 2014

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Robin Woolven memories (joined 1949)

I started at the Southern Grammar School, at the Highland Road site, in September 1949 as a member of form 'One Green' whose form master was either Mr Hitchens (French) or Mr Ruoff (Geography). French was taught by Mr (CCF Major) Cummings. The only other boys I remember in that class were one Scudder (remembered, as Scudder was the American newspaper man murdered in The 39 Steps) and Peter Knight? - a South African lad who was good at all sports. For that first year I travelled by trolley bus (no 3 or 4) or a Southdown from St Mary's Church, Kingston to Albert Road then I walked to school past familiar shops, even sparing time to gaze in the windows of the smart Swiss Cafe where they sold cream cakes - rationing was still in force so they looked luxurious. From year two I took to my bicycle when the weather was reasonable. This meant negotiating Fratton Bridge four times daily as I invariably went home for lunch and only very rarely had school dinners' in the main hall.

I was on the week-long trip to Paris in 1952 - my first experience of the channel crossing and "foreigners". I have strong memories because there was a general strike of transport workers and we moved around the city on army lorries manned by Foreign Legionnaires in cloaks and Kepis. Naturally we 'did' the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the top of the Arc de Triomphe and the novelty of shopping for unrationed chocolate in Bon Marche and a large cigar I bought for my Grandfather - he never smoked it! Accommodation was in a hotel by the Luxembourg Gardens where we sat and sipped from small bottles of nasty red wine.

I am also in the Bruges Trip photograph on the website and I particularly remember the Beguinage complex by the water in Bruges and how much I enjoyed the day in Bouillon where we exploring the castle up on the hill. On that holiday photograph on the website I recognise my friend John Parkyn next to me in the rear row, the fair haired boy named King and the well-built Tony (Simmonds?) who later joined the Navy. Of the staff I recognise Mr K Thomas (Maths), Mr Dwerryhouse (Maths), Mr Cummings and Miss Cook(e), the school secretary whose office was next to the of the rather severe Mr H Mills, the headmaster. Mr Mills was held in great awe. He seemed to spend break times standing at his mezzanine level office window commanding a view of the whole of the "playground" from where he would indicate with a pointed finger the unfortunates who would then have to report to him. For safety reasons my mates stood out of sight directly below his window - and we were generally law abiding chaps.

In my third or fourth year I was in Mr Pallant's (Biology) class in the new single storey building to the right rear in the 1953 school photo. 'Don' Pallant was a young teacher known for his liberal use of a length of rubber Bunsen burner hose. On the chemistry side I remember Mr (and Flt Lt in the CCF) Chatterton who, like the rest of the science staff, urged us to join the "Physical Society" (or similar name) which met monthly in Portsmouth Polytechnic lecture theatre - the lectures there were a revelation of fascinating things beyond school curriculum and I still remember the talk on the history of the measurement of the speed of sound.

I remember an "Open Day" in the Biology building which I spent 'demonstrating' the dissection of a bull's eye. Other teachers I remember well are the Music master Mr 'Harry' Steed whose music room was above that of the Art Master Mr Jeffries. On that point I remember being in an art class whilst Mr Steed, at the piano, was leading his class above us in a rousing song and tapping feet which caused the art room ceiling to vibrate. Mr Jeffries was furious (not an unusual state) and shouted loudly complaining of 'that damned fool Steed.' I was no budding artist but I do remember two occasions on which my work was acknowledged. The first was when Mr Jefferies gave us the subject of "A Beach Scene" and, incapable of a masterpiece, painted in watercolours the beach as seen from the top of a cliff above it - so sand, waves and circular coloured umbrellas were depicted. On the second occasion I thought I was risking Mr Jefferies' ire when issued with green plasticine which I rolled into crocodiles of various sizes which were then exhibited in the art room glass case for a week or two.

Music teacher Mr Harry Steed who was organist at a church just "over the hill", had taught at the school in the pre-war years and my two cousins (Dennis and Raymond Gibbons) remembered him producing their annual Gilbert and Sullivan productions performed in the old building on Fawcet Road. Both cousins joined the navy as Engine Room Artificers, Dennis losing his life in a submarine attacked by the Japanese - I have checked his and his ship's details in the RN Submarine Museum at Haslar.

In February 1952, due to the shortage of classrooms, I remember my class working in the upper hall (outside Dr King's geography room and Mr Steed's music room)
when chemistry master Mr (and Sub Lt RN CCF) Westwood entered to announce, in solemn tones, the death of King George VI. For the 1953 Coronation celebrations, for which we all received a souvenir mug or similar and a message from the new Queen, I was on duty in my Queen's Scout uniform, selling celebration programmes in the Guildhall Square - Scouting with the 21st Portsmouth (St Wilfrid's, Ewart Road off George Street where I went to Primary School) was my main extramural interest - until certain girls of the SGS in Fawcet Road entered my life. I was also a member of the St Anne's church choir in HM Dockyard although I had no musical talent - but they paid 6d a week plus certain bus fares and extra for weddings etc.

School woodwork and metalwork classes were held in Reginald Road School out at Eastney, the former by a young teacher who, in his spare time, built a harpsicord (or similar instrument) in Iight oak; his wife taught at the SGS Girls' School. I still have, because my parent kept it, the small coffee table I built/threw together, not a thing a beauty but still in use in my study. Metalwork was taught by the splendid Dickensian Mr Trout who I recognise is sitting on the right of the staff row in the 1954 school photograph, next to the gentleman who was the experimenter (or whatever he was called) in the Science Block, with Miss Cook(e) at the end of "the staff", such was the social order 60 years ago. Under Mr Trout's direction I made and decorated a small copper ashtray whose main advantage was that I appeared knowledgeable when purchasing much larger copper trays in the bazaar in Tehran in the days of the Shah in the early 1960s - needless to say my little ashtray is still somewhere in my study.

Sessions at Reginald Road School were not the only school activities that required mobility as the sports facilities were up on the Eastern Road between the harbour and the (then) Portsmouth Aerodrome. 'Sports afternoons' were no real pleasure as a long bicycle ride preceded and followed any 'games' played in the wind blowing off Langstone Harbour. I was coached/harassed on the sports ground by a Mr Hobson, a small and very fit sports master. But top of my complaints list would have been the gym for our weekly half hour of PT way up on an "island" at the junction of Francis and Devonshire Avenues (the site on Google maps seems to be a Co-op store). So, a rapid walk or run was essential both before and after the gym work - nothing beat a quick shower (if you were lucky) then a trot back to the Highland Road site to get one sweating again. Perhaps these experiences of sports and games was the reason why I never developed any real interest in sports or much physical exercise other than squash and hill walking, but they did provide ideal training for dealing with PT and sports afternoons later in the RAF.

Francis Avenue was also the route from my home in Manor Road, Kingston (subsequently demolished to provide a sports field for a girls' school), over Fratton Bridge or the pedestrian footbridge at Fratton station, past the Danish Bacon and the Fyffes banana warehouses and down Francis Avenue. If Mr 'Tish' Tilney - in his grey spats striding down from Fratton Station (I think he commuted from Hayling Island or somewhere equally exotic) overtook you - or you, him - he would engage you in "improving" your conversation for the rest of the walk. He was, of course, a very nice but rather intense gentleman, a senior French master who spent his lunch hours hosting either his Bible Class or the weekly Stamp Club. I remember in one of my years a pale and frail boy named Peter Meyer (?) who was, I assume, from a German refugee family. His English was good and he coached me in my few words of German - all picked up from British prisoner of war films.

Other teachers that I remember include Mr R M White (English - his wife taught at the SGS Girl's School) and my Maths teacher Mr George Spraggs, on whom we had informal social snippets from one Appelby, the boy that delivered the Spraggs' daily newspaper. Dr King the geographer was an excellent teacher - he must have been as he liked the maps I drew! He, like Mr Jeffries, had a very short temper so was known to shout frequently - Dr King may have been somewhat disabled and in frequent pain, which would explain most things. Mr J Thomas taught history and I remain most grateful to him for explaining the essentials of our world to (I think) 1918 when history ended! I thought of Mr J Thomas quite recently when, in the course of writing an article for a London local history journal, I had the opportunity to use 'antidistablishmentarianism' - the longest word in the language Mr Thomas told us. The other Mr Thomas was the maths master Mr K Thomas who is on the left in the Bruges trip photograph. Mr K Saxon Walker (English) impressed me in those boring sombre grey-suit days by wearing blue corduroy suiting and through his vast knowledge of Shakespeare. He once challenged us to give him a line and he would respond with play, act, scene and line number. I made up a line and after a moment or two he rightly told me not to be silly. I admit that I never really 'got' Shakespeare although I was peripherally involved in some of the annual school plays then performed at the Teacher Training College opposite the White House at Milton. I do remember that my father made or had made by his ship's handyman, the gold painted throne (made out of an old steel stacking char) for Julius Caesar one year.

I have a strong memory of lining with my classmates, all caps on and straight, the roadside outside the Odeon Cinema, round the corner from school to cheer as Mr Churchill drove past from the South Parade Pier then turned East along to Eastney, waving his hat and/or cigar. I see from The Times Digital Archive that the date was almost certainly 11 December 1950 when the former (and subsequent) Prime Minister that day had been presented with the freedom of the City of Portsmouth.

As the examples on the website show, school speech days were held in my time with honoured guest speakers including the (female) Nicaraguan Ambassador in London and the thriller and occult novelist Dennis Wheatley - of whom I had never heard and whom I have never since read.
 
Robin Woolven (July 2015)

Keith "Jack"  Horner memories (joined 1951)

I started at the old Highland Road School in 1951 and later moved to the new buildings in Great Salterns. The Highland Road School had two Assembly Halls, one on the ground floor and the other immediately above it. The ground floor of the school was dark and utilitarian, classrooms bei ng furnished with typical well worn desks and the ubiquitous "black boards". The first storey seemed to be lighter and more welcoming than the ground floor, and the Annex was a separate red brick building which housed the science rooms. In one corner of the playground sat a light coloured brick hut which we were told was the "Cadet Hut" and off bounds unless involved in cadet activities. A second brick single storey building sat next to the hut as the Biology Lab! Here Mr Westfold held sway, and would appear regularly in naval officer uniform as he was responsible for the naval section of the School Cadet Force.

My first Form teacher was "Chalky" White, a man who taught English and seemed to maintain order with no great effort, and from day one was respected by all the new boys. I cannot recall him ever raising his voice or resorting to "easy" teaching (more on this later). Westfold, like Chalky, was respected and quietly appreciated by the boys. In between the main building and the science annex was a toilet block. Using this facility could be risky as a channel of running water passed beneath wooden toilet seats. It was known that certain boys lit and floated candles from one end of the channel to the other! It was basic wisdom to try to choose a cubicle as far up stream as possible! No gymnasium or craft facilities were available. Sports took place at playing fields along Great Salterns Road, and woodwork classes at North End School, so we cycled to each on the days specified.

School life in this community was strictly regulated and behaviour enforced at classroom level and ultimately through Headmaster Henry Mills. The latter seemed to me, a naive eleven year old boy, to be of dark, gorilla like appearance! In later years, I felt he bore a resemblance to the film actor Robert Beatty. Discipline varied from teacher to teacher, and at the whim of godlike creatures called "senators". These had their own room, strictly off limits to ordinary boys, and wore their school blazers with gold braid! I guess their powers were limited to issuing "lines" for minor infractions and pulling one to a stop for running. On the other hand teachers ranged widely in their disciplinary style. There were those such as Chalky White, Westfold, "Buller" Jeffries, Hoar, Jim Thomas, "Scratch" Hitchins ,Westfold, and others who had a natural command and dealt with infractions by issuing lines, or extra work, occasionally sending one for the "Black Book" for a serious issue. The book was collected by the boy concerned from the Headmaster's Study and name and brief details of the offence entered. At Morning Assembly, the names from the book were read out and the boys ordered to report to the Headmaster. After a brief discussion he would then administer strokes of the cane and send you, walking with clenched buttocks, on your way. In my experience, a couple of teachers did not have a natural ability to control a class. Although legendary, Mr Steed was happy to call out an offender, grip your head on one side and administer a sharp slap to the ear on the other side! "Tish" Tilney was an expert in the use of a wooden ruler. His skill was to order you to hold your hand out, palm down, and then he would aim the edge of the ruler accurately and whack the proffered hand, leaving blue green swelling! My classmates simply viewed these personal assaults as a "rite of passage" and laughed at both teachers.

Post war facilities were basic in the Highland Road School. All classrooms had black boards but audio visual equipment was minimal. I recall only Mr Westfold using some form of colour slide projector, and Messr Thomas and Jeffries used wall hung visuals, whilst an epidiascope was sometimes turned on in history classes. Our primary information sources were text books. These were issued at the beginning of the year, having been collected from the previous users, and our names and date written inside the cover. Often these books were in barely readable condition, and would have been published decades before. The only class that didn't need a textbook was during our first school year when we all did Speech Training once a week- no doubt to remove our revolting Portsmouth accents! A text book was utterly vital to Geography lessons as one Dr King had the " easy" teaching style which left dozens of students virtually ignorant about the subject. Filing in to his room we would quickly note he was sitting behind his desk and our instructions were written on the blackboard- read and make notes on pages 25- 45 and answer the questions at the end of the chapter! All my life my knowledge of geography has been limited as a result. Surely, here is a subject which can be brought to life with models, experiments, and discovery but was deadened by teaching boredom. On the other hand, I found Mr Thomas a good history teacher able to engage and promote discussion, and both Chalky White and Inky Ingram grabbed my own natural English language skills and pushed it along.

Perhaps, my recall may give you an impression that school days at Highland Road were grim and unrewarding, but this is not so. Mr Dwerryhouse put in much of his own time running a Junior and Senior Choir, and doing so in a way that helped me love music for the rest of my life. The school did concerts and plays, cadet parades, and on occasions lauded star performers especially at Sports Day. I well remember when the staff put on a pre Christmas Evening when a number of teachers did a turn. I think the Woodwork Master had built a harpsichord and played it! I really enjoyed the last school day before the Christmas break when we all trooped down Highland Road to a church and took part in a Carol Service. I still recall clearly when moving into my upper school year as we had morning assembly in the first floor Assembly Hall. We adolescent boys rushed to get in, not because we loved the hymns, but to get next to the windows so we could look out across the road to Weston Hart's store where two nub ile young ladies would sweep the entrance and clean the windows, well aware that many hormone riddled young boys were hypnotised by them! One Christmas, my Form Master was George Spraggs, a mathematics teacher with genuine interest in his subject and how to get the best from his pupils. George was an upright and relaxed man with a no nonsense control, but you could talk to him and feel he really listened. We all decided to club together and get him a Christmas present. I can't recall what it was but in the last hour before we went home we assembled in our Form Room and gave him the gift. To our delight he'd guessed this was happening and proceeded to hand out small packs of sweets! I suppose we all have a favourite teacher we recall and George has always been mine.

Moving to Great Salterns was a big change in two respects. First, this was a brand new, light and airy school, with wide open green playing fields. Secondly, I was no longer a small boy, but now a teenager nearly fifteen years old. I cycled to school from Southsea, and thoroughly enjoyed the community feeling as now the whole school was together for Morning Assembly and a big Compton Organ shook the hall. Speech Days were now a full-on occasion as we united to applaud prize winners and hear a guest speaker. But, somehow, it didn't have the character of the old school! Now we sat on chairs in the hall rather than stand or sit on a wooden floor. Modern designed desks replaced the old battered ones, and even new text books appeared and a library! It seemed as if the disciplinary measures had changed as well! My hands no longer suffered the edge of a wooden ruler, and the only lines I wrote out were my answers to GCE English practice papers as Inky Ingram tutored me because I was ahead of the class.

At the end of the Summer term, 1956, I left school for the last time. The only teacher I was to ever see again was Mr Westfold. I went to night school to get GCE A Levels, and there he was taking the Biology class. I later trained as a teacher at Milton Teacher Training College, was commissioned in the RAEC, and went on to train adults, a career in Human Resources, and eventually to be General Manager of one of Australia's biggest NGOs. In retirement, I look back on our school and truly understand and value the huge benefits it gave me in a start to life. In so many ways I became and remain a "Secundrian", and my schooldays shine brighter as I move through my eighth decade. Thank you to those teachers and pupils who I can recall so clearly.

I should be delighted to hear from any of my old school mates at   keithhorner@fastmail.fm

Keith "Jack" Horner (September 2016).

Dennis James memories (joined 1954)


I joined the School in 1954, while it was at Highland Road, from Cottage Grove Primary School in Southsea. I wasn't aware at the time that this was only temporary accommodation but, as the family was actively planning to emigrate to Australia (finally achieved at Christmas 1957), I did regard myself as a somewhat temporary student.
 
One teacher who particularly sticks in my mind is Peter (Drip) Dwerryhouse. He seemed to me to be kind and personable and I didn't understand why everyone called him Drip, but I did wonder whether his penchant for wearing a very tatty gown and purple socks had anything to do with it.

Science lessons with Mr Watson were effective in giving me an interest in Chemistry and Physics and I decided to equip myself to do independent research at home. This culminated in an attempt to create nitro-glycerine which produced a small bang but a large cloud of oily black smoke which rose up and coated the white ceiling. Thereafter I was obliged to take my chemistry paraphernalia down to Southsea Common whenever I felt the need to perform an experiment. I wonder now how spotty boys were supplied by obliging Chemists shops with whatever dangerous chemicals they wanted. Today "Health and Safety" has killed the danger but also the excitement.

I think I remember Mr Webb, as our form master, telling us off for being timid and saying it would be better to find tacks on his chair as a sign of initiative. Somebody duly obliged but, unfortunately, he noticed them before sitting down and proceeded to contradict himself with a spirited harangue.

I was proud of a wooden case used to carry my books instead of a leather satchel (it was made for me by my grandfather) but it did cause some trouble. On one occasion I was told off (I think by Mr Webb) for banging my case onto the desk top because it might mark the desk. On another occasion the handle broke as I was running down stairs and cut my finger, necessitating being taken to St Mary's Hospital for some stitches (the scar still visible today). The case was also the means of transporting chemicals, rockets etc. to Southsea Common for dangerous activities and it suffered somewhat from leaking acids.

I cycled to the Highland Road school (on my very heavy and gearless Humber) and recall the danger of getting a wheel stuck in the, still exposed, tram tracks. The new site at Baffins was too far to cycle and I resorted to the red Corporation buses. A school friend, "Wonky" Wanhill and myself caught the bus in Elm Grove.

The building at Baffins was most impressive, especially after being used to the crowded and shoddy Highland Road.

The Headmaster, Mr Mills, was a distant figure, always impressive at assembly but usually closeted in his office, which was protected by a "traffic light" arrangement regulating entry.

I was not a sporty individual and I recall PT as being an unrelenting struggle to avoid too much exercise. My choice of activity was always the cross-country run as it was usually possible to hang back and hide, mostly on the Langstone Harbour sea shore, then stagger in last.

Lunchtimes were an opportunity to hurry to Portsmouth Airport, usually with friend Michael King, and enjoy watching student pilots staggering around the sky in their Tiger Moths. We each "adopted" an Auster aircraft. Mine, I think, was G-AJAB and Michael�s was G-AJIS.

Portsmouth Southern Grammar School was probably most influential in steering me into a career in education, in Australia and the UK, first as a science and maths teacher, then as a teachers' college lecturer, a university lecturer and finally a tertiary education consultant.


 

 

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Me in 1959 - or is it Buddy Holly?
Me today, aesthetically, not an improvement!

Dennis James (January 2017)

This page last modified on Tuesday, March 28, 2017

                                                                                                                            

  Robert Webb (joined 1951)

I entered the school in September 1950 and remained until June 1954 immediately after sitting the final GCE "O" level exam for which I had been entered.     

The reason for my departure at the age of 14 years and 11 months was that my father had been promoted in his work and the family moved with him from a "prefab" in Talbot Road, Southsea to a brand new 3 bedroom house which was, for my father, a first time buy.

It was a sad time for me although I was slightly cheered in Auh=gust 1954, when I heard that I had passed 6 of the 7 "O" levels that I had taken in the June.

I joined Poole Grammar School 1st year Science 6th form at the age of 15 years and 2 moinths (18 months younger than the next youngest member of the 6th form).

I have enclosed some photo copies of the athletics teams and a group photo of the school's CCF in 1951 (Ed: posted in the appropriate sections of this website).

Robert Webb (March 2017)       

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